In what has been a season full of distractions, the UCLA Bruins basketball team has come out of the cupcake part of its schedule with a 7-1 record and #23 ranking in the coaches poll. This is down from an #18 preseason ranking but, without three scholarship players, as everyone knows.
So what do we know so far?
- UCLA has struggled to win against bad teams.
- UCLA’s two best wins, #47 Wisconsin and #88 Georgia Tech (all rankings from here on out by KenPom), have a combined record of 8-10. In other words, UCLA’s best wins so far this year have come over teams without winning records.
- With one exception, UCLA’s other wins were all competitive games:
- #247 Central Arkansas (5-5) overtime win
- #349 South Carolina State (1-8) 48-42 in second half with 17:03 until UCLA pulled away from one of the worst teams in basketball.
- #200 Irvine (4-7) 45-43 16:21 left in second half until UCLA ran away with it
- #187 Cal State Bakersfield (4-6) 29-27 at half.
- Then finally in the last game UCLA destroyed a cupcake:
- #290 Detroit Mercy (4-5) 106-73 in game that was never close.
However, that means that, so far, this UCLA team has not beaten a single team with a winning record! Further, with the exception of the last game, as shown above, UCLA’s sometimes terrible opponents have stayed in the game until some point in the second half. None of those opponents are in the top 50% of college basketball this year.
UCLA also lost to #32 Creighton who is 6-2. The Bluejays are not a bad team, but certainly not a world beater or elite team either.
Now, in the next four games, UCLA, which is currently ranked #43 by KenPom, faces:
- #44 Michigan (7-3) on the road
- #11 (and #17 in AP) Cincinnati (7-1)
- #96 South Dakota (8-3)
- #12 (#8 in AP) Kentucky (7-1).
All the teams have winning records. Two of the teams are ranked above UCLA and even South Dakota is better than any team we have played at home so far this year. The Michigan game this Saturday is on the road and the Kentucky game is at a neutral site.
This is a nice way of saying, in the next four games, we will find out how good UCLA really is (or is not. The early season was a bunch of bad teams or even bad mid-majors. This was not intentional. Wisconsin plays a tough schedule but certainly was not expected to have a losing record. Georgia Tech had its two leading scorers and starting backcourt suspended.
But the bottom line is that UCLA’s first eight games have been against mediocre to downright awful teams. What is worse is that UCLA has struggled. South Carolina State is one of the worst teams in college basketball but was in the game until the second half. None of our cupcake victories is ranked higher than any Pac-12 team, not even the lowest-ranked Pac-12 team.
Will Steve Alford’s Bruins be ready for the “real” games ahead? Has the team grown and learned to play together better against the cupcakes?
The only thing we know for sure is that we will have a better idea after these next four game how good, or bad, UCLA is this year.